LePage says domestic violence efforts don’t conflict with gun law

Posted Sept. 07, 2011, at 7:16 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 08, 2011, at 4:54 a.m.

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Gov. Paul LePage
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Gov. Paul LePage

FAIRFIELD, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage asked employers on Wednesday to stand with him as he reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to fighting domestic violence at home and in the workplace.

At an event at Hammond Tractor in Fairfield, the governor signed an executive order that directs state agencies to make domestic violence awareness a priority. He also announced the creation of a domestic violence awareness toolkit that will be offered to businesses at no cost.

“As a man, it’s important that I say that abuse is wrong,” the governor said. “It’s my turn and my time to step up. If there’s anything I do as your governor, this is the one thing that I will continue throughout my administration to fight. I need the rest of you to stand up with us.”

The executive order comes less than three months after LePage signed a bill, LD 35, that makes it illegal for employers to prohibit workers with concealed weapons permits from keeping guns in their cars on company property.

Similar bills had been introduced in previous Legislatures, but this was the first time in decades that Republicans have controlled the House and Senate. The bill was passed largely along party lines in both chambers.

Opponents of the law, including many Democrats and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said it could make businesses less safe.

Rep. Anne Haskell of Portland, the lead Democrat on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, applauded the governor for his commitment to stamp out domestic violence but said it seems contradictory to his support of LD 35.

“To not allow companies to protect workers doesn’t seem consistent with his commitment to good domestic violence policies since we know workplaces are among the most dangerous places,” Haskell said Wednesday.

LePage said he doesn’t believe the law he signed in June is connected to his efforts to address domestic violence in the workplace.

“I will say this: I have never seen a gun hurt anybody. I have seen a person holding a gun hurt someone,” he said in an interview after Wednesday’s event. “So this policy is not attempting to fix gun problems, it’s attempting to fix people problems.

“I think there is way too much made of guns being violent. I’ve never seen a gun being violent. I’ve seen people holding guns be violent.”

The governor has made domestic violence awareness a priority of his administration. His own experience with abuse as a child is well-known.

When he was 11, the governor was given a 50-cent piece by his abusive father and told he could keep the money if he lied to doctors about his injuries. LePage kept the money, but never told the doctors anything. Instead, he never went home, but he didn’t forget either.

In addition to signing the executive order, LePage and Department of Labor Commissioner Robert Winglass announced the creation of a domestic violence toolkit that will be offered at no cost to businesses across the state.

The toolkit includes facts about domestic violence, such as the fact that one in four women reports some type of abuse in their lifetime, and offers sample policies for businesses. It is paid for by the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence and the Department of Labor’s safety education training fund.

“We think of [domestic violence] as something that occurs in the home, but it also applies in the workplace as well,” Winglass said, adding that employers of all stripes have seen the effects of domestic violence through decreased productivity and, in some cases, through tragedy.

Gary Hammond, owner of Hammond Tractor, said his business has been affected personally and tragically by domestic violence. A few years ago, a female employee who was going through a messy divorce was killed by her husband, who then set fire to their home, killing himself in the process.

That event made Hammond sit up and take notice.

“Whether you employ two people or 2,000, there’s things you can do,” he said.

Hammond Tractor already has instituted workplace policies around domestic violence and abuse, and LePage said he hopes Wednesday’s announcement makes more businesses aware of the scope of the problem.

When he was a manager at Marden’s, LePage said he dealt with domestic violence issues often and said there were times when he wished he was better trained.

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